(June 9, 2017) – On May 25th, Senator Susan Collins (ME) and Senator Benjamin Cardin (MD) introduced two pieces of legislation intended to assist volunteer fire departments in the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.
S.1238, the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act, will exempt from federal income tax any property tax benefit and up to $600 per year of any other type of benefit that a state or local unit of government provides to volunteer emergency responders as a recruitment or retention incentive. Congressman David Reichert (WA-8) and Congressman John Larson (CT-1) introduced companion legislation, H.R. 1550, on March 15th. The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved similar legislation during the 114th Congress, but it failed to advance through both chambers before the end of the legislative session.
S.1239, the Length of Service Award Program Cap Adjustment Priority Act, is the second piece of legislation introduced by the two Senators. This measure will raise the annual cap on contributions to Length-of-Service Awards Programs to $6,000 and allows for adjustments for inflation. The legislation will also create a process to adjust the cap based on inflation.
Without volunteer fire service personnel, many communities could not provide emergency services protection, while others would need to raise taxes to pay salaries and benefits for full or part-time staff. To bolster recruitment and retention, many volunteer fire departments now provide a number of incentives, including non-monetary gifts, reductions in property taxes or other fees, per-call payments, stipends, and retirement benefits. Volunteer benefits are typically small, but demonstrate community support. The Volunteer Responder Incentive Act and the Length of Service Award Program Cap Adjustment Priority (LOSAP CAP) Act will assist local fire departments in creating incentives for the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.